Space Exploration

The Space Race

On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, triggering the start of the space race with the United States of America.

Although small animals (starting with fruit flies and including dogs, cats, guinea pigs and monkeys) had previously been sent to the edge of space in high-altitude balloons, on November 3, 1957 Laika the dog became the first animal to orbit the Earth, aboard Spunik 2.

On January 31, 1958 the United States of America responded to the advances made by the Soviet Union by launching their own artificial satellite, Explorer 1.

In 1959 the Soviet Union extended their lead in the space race further by initiating their Luna (Lunik in Russian) programme, sending robotic probs to orbit the moon. On 14 September 1959, Luna 2 became the first man-made object to impact the Moon, and on 7 October 1959, Luna 3 beamed back to Earth pictures of the ‘dark side’ of the Moon for the first time.

On 12 April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Uri Gagarin became the first man in space, when his Vostok (Russian for East or Orient) spacecraft completed a single orbit of the Earth, reaching an altitude of 327 kilometers during the 108 minutes spaceflight.

The first Woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, on 16 June 1963, aboard Vostok 6.

The Soviets achieved a number of other notable firsts, including the first spacewalk – lasting 12 minutes on 18 March 1965 by Alexey Leonov from his Voskhod 2 spacecraft – and the first ‘soft’ landing on the Moon, when the Luna 9 spacecraft touched down in the Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum) on 3 February, 1966.

On 25 May 1961 American President John F Kennedy had announced plans to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. On 20 July 1969, the ‘Eagle’ Lunar Module of the Apollo 11 spacecraft touched down on the surface of the Moon. Stepping out of the Lunar Module, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another world. For more details of the Apollo missions, see: the Project Apollo main article.

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Astronomy, Cosmology, Space and Astrophysics